The great themes in American history have antecedents in the bible. They range from the questions around slavery, women's rights, the moral life, the role of kings, the Golden Rule, equality, freedom, justice, the moral life, and the moral life-style are all in the dialogues in the bible, seen as a work of literature of mythic proportions.
Let's see: Around 1200 BC a remarkable confluence of ideas emerged in both the East and the West where essentially religious and secular ideas underwent enormous change. The religious ideas from Confucianism to Hinduism to Islamic notions could be expressed in the simple maxim "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Why this occurred is complicated. The genesis came from a change in circumstances among many nations of the world. The old kingly and Pharaoh systems where the Pharaoh was divine and the nations fortunes depended upon his ministrations to the God or Gods fell into disbelief from the Mayans to the Egyptians after that date.
The populations of the world had grown to such an extent that kings needed to put thousands of soldiers into the field to triumph in war and that meant tribute, plunder, taxes, money and a greater dependence upon citizen soldiers, or slave soldiers. An elite cadre of kings' men with chariots could not stay the field with massed armies of infantry.
This was a massive change in the balance of power during this 1200 BC period where citizens were able to negotiate with kings around taxes, rights, equality, freedom, justice. Before kings did not need these folks since wars were small in terms of resources needed.
Now these trends also affected the Jewish fathers as they sought to establish a new religion among the Canaanite pagans in Canaan. Peculiarly, the native religions initially had to be compromised with in terms of their Gods and the new Hebrew God. Powerful among these was the female Goddess Asherah who Canaanite women were reluctant to give up since Asherah was the patroness of childbirth and of women. The compromise did not last and the Hebrew fathers sought to prohibit her worship ultimately. Note that Asherahs' symbol was a stake or pole or tree and one of her symbols was the serpent. Notice that, in the garden of Eden, the tree is forbidden and the serpent is portrayed as an evil presence. This all has less to do with Satan in my view, (Satan is seldom mentioned in the Old Testament) but with the attempt to suppress worship of Asherah. But note for a time she was seen as the wife or a consort of Yahweh.1
All through the Old Testament the hostility to Asherah is evident for these reasons and others. But the strain in relation to the rights of women did not go away. It was not until 1972 that the Jewish fathers allowed female Rabbis.
A second point; Thomas Jefferson analyzed the bible taking out all references to miracles and the supernatural and wrote down the ethical precepts he found there. The American political structure is based upon ethical premises originating in the bible, especially the new testament; and remember this was an enlightenment writer.
The bible in its various permutations give us the priesthood of all believers of Martin Luther; all men are equal before God, where notions of equality and justice come forth as a moral concepts in this period.
Paul champions Thecla in the attempts to have her killed for choosing chastity along with Roman women of noble origins in Rome. The female lions in the arena refuse to kill Thecla; indeed protected her. Thecla travels with Paul and baptizes herself since she could not get a male to do it. True or untrue, the mythic life of the equality of women was nurtured and heard and understood by millions in the ancient world.
Jesus in his sermon preaches that the meek shall inherit the earth and did in fact, scandalously give women prominent roles in his ministry. The equality of all is Andrew Jackson democracy and Jeffersonian democracy which ennobles the militia citizen solider and the plain man.
Lucifer, in the bible, is the protagonist of city-building, wealth, power, cosmetics, alcohol, war and the Tower of Babel. All of the seven sins are not just sins of individual lapses. This battle for human souls in the bible, between God and Lucifer, is a battle between the sinful city and the salt of the earth, the meek and the mild, between the mammons of Wall street and the good people of main street. Now, note here, the bible is stating not what causes good and evil but what life-style is conducive to good versus evil. And, if we read carefully, we are also given an explanation of the origins of human nature. This, too, is rooted in the differing social structures.
City-people, are wage-slaves, actual slaves, and are easily dominated and or led astray. Self-sufficiency, on the land in small democratic communities ,are the basis of the moral life and this is a life that God champions in the Old Testament and in the New Testament as well This view is also present in Islam. This is the view embedded in the US Constitution where the rural versus urban is the axis of much of American politics.
It is no accident that Islamic extremists see technologized America as the Great Satan and themselves as innocents. All of these themes, and more, are present in the bible and under-grid the Great American Experiment in Democracy.
Remember these implicit ideas emanating from the bible were also a factor in the toppling of the Roman empire.
So all that said, what then are the great themes in American life and by extension in the great American Novel?
More on that tomorrow.
1. Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel, (Eerdmans, ISBN 0-8028-2852-3, 2005), is a book by Syro-Palestinian archaeologist and biblical scholar William G. Dever (Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Archeology and Anthropology at the University of Arizona). "Did God Have a Wife?" was intended as a popular work making available to the general public the evidence long known to archaeologists and scholars regarding ancient Israelite religion: namely that the Israelite god (Yahweh) had a consort, that her name was Asherah, and that she was part of the Canaanite pantheon.
I take Lilith as the wife and consort of God, and the name-sake of the Lilith preceding Eve in the Garden of Eden in my novel of that name. Note, also, that the biblical Solomon's wife is called Lilith as well. My goal in this is to re-introduce major themes and developments in consciousness in the bible and mythic history with Lilith as my protagonist.